While Colorado, Kent State, Penn State and SMU were all guaranteed two home games apiece as part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic ahead of the semifinals December 22 at the Orleans Arena, the matchups for the semifinals had yet to be announced. That announcement came Friday, with SMU set to take on Kent State in the first game and Colorado playing Penn State in the nightcap.
The third place and championship games will be played the following night.
Of the four teams SMU will enter the 2015-16 season with the highest expectations, with head coach Larry Brown returning a good portion of his rotation from a season ago led by point guard Nic Moore and power forward Markus Kennedy. The Mustangs made their first NCAA tournament appearance in more than two decades last season, winning the American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles as well.
Colorado returns four starts from last season’s team, but they’ll only have three available due to the ruptured Achilles tendon suffered by forward Xavier Johnson. Forward/center Josh Scott will lead the way for Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes, with players such as Dominique Collier and Wesley Gordon needing to step forward.
Penn State will have to account for the loss of guard D.J. Newbill from last season’s team, and Kent State returns much of its front court from last season including All-MAC forward Jimmy Hall.
Thursday afternoon SMU announced that it would be one of the eight teams that will play in the 2015 Las Vegas Classic, with the final rounds of the event scheduled for December 22-23 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The Mustangs, who made their first NCAA tournament appearance in more than two decades and won the American Athletic Conference regular and postseason titles, return the majority of their rotation from last season led by point guard Nic Moore and forward Markus Kennedy.
The Mustangs will be joined by Colorado, Penn State, Kent State, Canisius, ULM, Nicholls State and Hampton. The Pirates, who knocked off Manhattan before falling to top overall seed Kentucky, are the only other team in the event to reach the NCAA tournament a season ago.
SMU will get two home games in Dallas before the final rounds of the event in Las Vegas, and the same goes for the three other selected “hosts.” Those three teams are Colorado, Penn State and Kent State, with Canisius, ULM, Nicholls State and Hampton serving as the visiting teams in those pre-Las Vegas matchups.
Matchups for those games, as well as the two brackets once the teams get to Las Vegas (SMU, Colorado, Penn State and Kent State form one bracket, with the other four teams in the other), will be announced later this offseason.
In his first season of play at Kent State, redshirt sophomore forward Jimmy Hall has been a key contributor for Rob Senderoff’s Golden Flashes. Averaging 15.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, Hall leads the team in both statistical categories.
Unfortunately for Kent State they’re going to be without Hall for a while, as it was announced Wednesday that he’s been diagnosed with mononucleosis. According to the school he’ll sit out for at least the next week before he’s reevaluated by doctors.
“Jimmy was playing at a (MAC) Player of the Year level, and we are obviously very disappointed for him that he is going to miss some games,” said KSU coach Rob Senderoff. “Right now the priority is Jimmy getting healthy and being back to help us as soon as possible. In the meantime, we are missing 30 minutes per night. All of our guys in the front court will be called on to step up.”
Without Hall, players such as Khaliq Spicer (5.8 rpg) and Chris Ortiz (3.8 rpg) will be asked to step up in the front court. Kent State, which saw its six-game win streak come to an end Friday night at Buffalo, is in the midst of a five-game stretch in which four of the games will be played on the road.
The Golden Flashes visit Western Michigan Wednesday night and will host Miami University Saturday night before playing road games at Akron and Toledo. Kent State and Akron are currently tied atop the MAC East standings at 6-2, with Buffalo and Bowling Green a game back at 5-3.